Congress’ basic guidelines for automated vehicles miss the potential problems

In a recent article on Government Tech’s website, Congress announced they have already come up with six basic guidelines to regulate the future of autonomous vehicles.

The six legislative principles that have been defined are…

  • Prioritize safety
  • Promote continued innovation and reduce existing roadblocks
  • Remain tech neutral
  • Reinforce separate federal and state roles
  • Strengthen cybersecurity
  • Educate the public to encourage responsible adoption of self-driving vehicles

While the government is starting off some very generic principles to regulate the industry and have some other concerns they are starting to look into, I see a few very significant problems that must be addressed before fully autonomous vehicles become the nationwide standard.

  1. Since non-automated vehicles as stated in the article are already responsible for “94 percent of crashes” due to “human error or decision”, ownership of a non-connected vehicle will eventually be vilified (if not seen as an outright criminal liability). This issue may play out through a heavy “tax” and/or insurance levy on those individuals who wish to retain their non-automated vehicles, or an outright ban on the manufacture of “human driven” vehicles after a certain date. Will automated vehicles and “human driven” vehicles be allowed to co-exist? Or will there be a mandatory phase-out period in the coming decade?
  2. Navigating any city using an outdated GPS system is already a problem with “human driven” vehicles. What will happen if an automated vehicle is allowed to operate with an outdated GPS system? To avoid a potentially lethal outcome, I expect the government to create an oversight agency to mandate all autonomous vehicles have the most recent firmware and software updates at specific intervals. This may play out through updates as infrequently as every “state inspection”, or be more strict via mandatory updates at every refueling (with the option to penalize or completely restrict owners who continue to use a vehicle with outdated software). This, by proxy, also brings up the issue of standardization of GPS systems. While the government has so far been hesitant to declare a standard for automated vehicles to use, this could soon be a pressing safety issue that will not wait for a consumer verdict.
  3. When automated vehicles can be sent home at any time, as stated in the article, “this could create significantly more vehicle-miles traveled, ultimately causing worse congestion. People could potentially send their car home rather than paying for expensive parking in an urban core.” Cities would lose income on previously reliable parking garage and meter fees and will also have to address the sudden glut of unused parking buildings across their downtown areas. I don’t expect any city to gracefully accept this loss of income, and will instead create toll lanes on previously “free” roads as well as a new universal “miles usage” tax for increased “wear and tear” on the roads. Will the federal government allow this?
  4. When automated vehicles become the majority, what is to stop overreach from non-traffic related issues once vehicles become fully interconnected? If you owe the IRS, a court judgement, have overdue child support payments, or even a late credit card payment, what is to stop a restriction from being placed on a connected vehicle’s use since it will be readily available online? Is driving still a privilege and not a right in the coming era of automated vehicles?
  5. Uber is already a nightmare for city taxi services. What is to stop Uber (or a similar company) from purchasing several automated buses that pick up and drop off passengers at designated areas defined by the users themselves? Instead of losing their bus/subway/transport base (IE: income), I expect a hard push back on Uber-style companies through city-based lawsuits and insurance bribes concerns on the safety of a peer-controlled company with no external oversight.

While self-driving cars sound like a futuristic utopia we might actually see in our lifetimes, once the industry makes it to the “real world”, I think the early winners won’t be the consumers, but the attorneys who will be litigating every step of the way.

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